Archives for category: Corporate Influence

From Living On Earth (portions of radio discussion of the “the health effects of the deepwater disaster”):

GELLERMAN: . . . . It’s been more than six months since BP finally capped its runaway oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. But now come reports of a wave of illnesses and puzzling symptoms from some residents along the Gulf Coast. Their blood contains high levels of chemicals found in oil and the dispersants that were used to clean up the mess.

Many who are suffering say firm answers and adequate treatment are hard to come by, and there’s a growing sense of frustration with government agencies and the medical community. Living on Earth’s Jeff Young has the first part of our special report: “Toxic Tide – Discovering the Health Effects of the Deepwater Disaster”.

[HEARING: OIL SPILL COMMISSIONER DON BOESCH Okay, questions and comments from the floor…]

YOUNG: When the National Oil Spill Commission presented its final report in New Orleans, commissioners expected to get an earful from rig workers and fishermen worried about their jobs. Instead they heard speaker after speaker worried about something else: their health.

SPEAKER 1: I worked 60 days on the frontline for BP out here. I’m sick today, nobody wants to take care of me.

SPEAKER 2: The issue is ongoing; people are getting sick and dying.

SPEAKER 3: I have seen small children with lesions all over their body. We are very, very ill. And there’s a very good chance now that I won’t get to see my grandbabies.

YOUNG: Some had worked cleaning up the oil, others lived in or had visited places where oil washed ashore. All complained of mysterious ailments that arose after the spill.

Robin Young was one of those who spoke out. She manages vacation rental properties in Orange Beach, Alabama, where she has lived for 10 years.

When the spill started, Young helped form a citizen group called Guardians of the Gulf. At first, the group was not focused on health issues. Then, people, including Young, started getting sick.

R YOUNG: Headaches, I would get nauseous – and these are all things that I don’t normally experience at all, I’ve always been very, very, very healthy. Then the coughing – I coughed up so much nasty looking mess.

J YOUNG: Young says symptoms started after she spent a day near the water in June and she still hasn’t fully recovered. She heard from others in her community and across the Gulf coast with similar problems.

* * *

J YOUNG: Young’s group paid for more blood sampling. The Louisiana Environmental Action network asked biochemist and MacArthur grant winner Wilma Subra to analyze the results. The blood samples came from cleanup workers, crabbers, a diver who’d been in oiled water, and at least two children who live on the coast. All had reported recent health problems. Subra compared the levels of volatile organic compounds in those samples to a national database of VOC’s in blood compiled by the National Center for Health Statistics.

SUBRA: They’re as much as 5 to 10 times what you’d find in the normal population. And again, these are chemicals that relate back to chemicals in the BP crude and the dispersants.

* * *

SUBRA: I think it’s demonstrating that the chemicals they are being exposed to are showing up in their blood. We’ve briefed the federal agencies on it, tried to get them interested – they are evaluating the results. And I think there’s a lot of frustration in the community members across the coastal areas. They are really requesting answers.

* * *

YOUNG: Solid answers will take time. There’s little in the scientific literature on long term health effects of oil spills. In March the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences plans to start enrolling Gulf spill cleanup workers in a long-term health study. The principal investigator is Dale Sandler, chief of epidemiology at NIEHS. She hopes to track some 55,000 subjects for at least five years.

SANDLER: This will be by far the largest study of individuals exposed during an oil spill disaster that’s ever been conducted. So we have been moving heaven and earth to make this go quickly.

YOUNG: Sandler’s study has funding, thanks in part to BP. The study is a few months behind its original schedule. But researchers face another hurdle that may prove more difficult. Signing up tens of thousands of participants and getting people to accept results depends on credibility and trust. After the BP spill and Hurricane Katrina, trust is in low supply on the Gulf Coast. Here’s how Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kinnon sums up the attitude.

KINNON: The bottom line is very few people trust governmental agencies. They think there’s this incestuous relationship between BP and the government, and I tend to agree with them.

J YOUNG: And even as Robin Young asks the government to help her community, the plea comes with a note of deep suspicion.

RYOUNG: I hate to sound like a conspiracy theorist – that’s what I’m starting to feel like. Because it’s hard to believe that something like this is going on in the United States and no one’s helping.

More . . .

Link to Living on Earth podcast.

Wilma Subra’s analysis of blood samples from sick Gulf Coast residents.

The NIEHS plan for a large-scale, long-term study of cleanup workers.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently completed an amazing series of reports on the cancer clusters in Western Pennsylvania. Here is a sample from Day 2 of their 8-day series.

In many places around Western Pennsylvania residents see clusters of death and clusters of people sickened by cancer or heart and lung diseases.

And, like Lee Lasich, a Clairton resident, they’re frustrated that government health and environmental agencies don’t see them too, don’t do something about the problems and don’t take a tougher stance on enforcement of air pollution regulations.

* * *

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s analysis of Pennsylvania Department of Health mortality data from 2000 through 2008 found that 14,636 more people died from heart and respiratory disease and lung cancer in 14 Western Pennsylvania counties than national rates would predict, or 12,833 after adjusting for excess smoking in the region. And the yearlong investigation found numerous people throughout the region who talked about what seemed like unnatural and unexplained clusters of illnesses and death in their communities.

This overlap of high mortality rates and pollution raises questions about whether there is a causal relationship. The question has not been definitively answered, but for the people who live among these clusters, the connection seems clear.

More . . .

When it comes to particulate pollution, what you can’t see can hurt you.

“The stuff now is more insidious but much harder to perceive,” said Lester B. Lave, the Carnegie Mellon University economics professor who pioneered pollution mortality research in the 1970s. “There is no rotten egg smell. There is no dirt. It is less easily perceived. People are usually astonished that Pittsburgh still is one of the worst, but air pollution is continuing.”

Studies estimate that pollution kills 20,000 to 60,000 each year in the United States. Even at the lower range, pollution deaths would equal the nation’s annual rate of homicides.

The upper range would equal traffic fatalities and suicides combined and rank pollution as the nation’s eighth leading cause of death, just behind diabetes — another disease pollution has been linked with — and just ahead of the combined category of influenza and pneumonia.

And what’s true about pollution deaths holds true about particulate pollution: Both remain largely imperceptible to the general public.

Science to the rescue

For the past 40 years, science time and again has implicated particle pollution as a major killer.

In 1970, Dr. Lave and Eugene B. Seskin for the first time calculated health damage from pollution. Their subsequent book, “Air Pollution and Human Health,” published in 1977, found not only “a close association between air pollution and mortality,” but determined the relationship to be substantial.

Drs. Lave and Seskin’s work stirred such controversy that it prompted an effort to get Dr. Lave fired from his teaching position. But their science stood the test of time and helped inspire major epidemiological studies in subsequent decades.

More . . .

Center for Public Integrity: Big polluters freed from environmental oversight by stimulus.

In the name of job creation and clean energy, the Obama administration has doled out billions of dollars in stimulus money to some of the nation’s biggest polluters and granted them sweeping exemptions from the most basic form of environmental oversight, a Center for Public Integrity investigation has found.

The administration has awarded more than 179,000 “categorical exclusions” to stimulus projects funded by federal agencies, freeing those projects from review under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. Coal-burning utilities like Westar Energy and Duke Energy, chemical manufacturer DuPont, and ethanol maker Didion Milling are among the firms with histories of serious environmental violations that have won blanket NEPA exemptions.

Even a project at BP’s maligned refinery in Texas City, Tex. — owner of the oil industry’s worst safety record and site of a deadly 2005 explosion, as well as a benzene leak earlier this year — secured a waiver for the preliminary phase of a carbon capture and sequestration experiment involving two companies with past compliance problems. The primary firm has since dropped out of the project before it could advance to the second phase.

Agency officials who granted the exemptions told the Center that they do not have time in most cases to review the environmental compliance records of stimulus recipients, and do not believe past violations should affect polluters’ chances of winning stimulus money or the NEPA exclusions.

The so-called “stimulus” funding came from the $787-billion legislation officially known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, passed in February 2009.

Documents obtained by the Center show the administration has devised a speedy review process that relies on voluntary disclosures by companies to determine whether stimulus projects pose environmental harm. Corporate polluters often omitted mention of health, safety, and environmental violations from their applications. In fact, administration officials told the Center they chose to ignore companies’ environmental compliance records in making grant decisions and issuing NEPAexemptions, saying they considered such information irrelevant.

Some polluters reported their stimulus projects might cause “unknown environmental risks” or could “adversely affect” sensitive resources, the documents show. Others acknowledged they would produce hazardous air pollutants or toxic metals. Still others won stimulus money just weeks after settling major pollution cases. Yet nearly all got exemptions from full environmental analyses, the documents show.

More . . .

From Rollbackcampaign:

Camden has the second highest cancer rate in New Jersey, and the eighth highest in the nation thanks to over 100 toxic waste sites. When the St. Lawrence Cement Company tried to build yet another polluting factory in Camden, citizens banded together and convinced a district court to halt construction. Then the Supreme Court ruled in Alexander v Sandoval that citizens could not sue based on discriminatory effect. In order to block the construction of yet another polluter, citizens would need to show that there was intentional discrimination.

This clip is part of a video made by award-winning documentarian Stanley Nelson, which exposes the negative consequences of a federal judiciary that is increasingly opposed to civil rights protections. Mr. Nelson puts a human face on what has come to be known as the “rollback” of civil rights.

From :

NRDC’s Larry Levine describes the successful, decades-long battle to clean up General Electric’s toxic PCBs from the Hudson River and gets a tour of the cleanup project with EPA.

Breast cancer has become the poster child of corporate cause-related marketing campaigns. Countless women and men walk, bike, climb and shop for the cure. Each year, millions of dollars are raised in the name of breast cancer, but where does this money go and what does it actually achieve? Pink Ribbons, Inc. is a feature documentary that shows how the devastating reality of breast cancer, which marketing experts have labeled a “dream cause,” becomes obfuscated by a shiny, pink story of success.

The Chicago Tribune has just published a brilliant collection of articles, documents, charts, and videos that Upstream readers shouldn’t miss.  Here is the video for Part 4 of their series on EPA’s inefficacy in regulating toxic chemicals.

Regulators have allowed generation after generation of flame retardants onto the market without thoroughly assessing the health risks. One chemical touted as safe is now turning up in wildlife around the world. Read »


The Chicago Tribune has just published a brilliant collection of articles, documents, charts, and videos that Upstream readers shouldn’t miss.  Part 3 of their series looks at the troubling role of industry in science.

Companies that make flame retardants say science shows their products prevent fire deaths and are safe to use, but the research they often cite is either seriously flawed or grossly misrepresented. Read »

The Chicago Tribune has just published a brilliant collection of articles, documents, charts, and videos that Upstream readers shouldn’t miss.  Here is the video for Part 2 of their series on the troubling role of the tobacco industry.

With cigarettes starting deadly fires, tobacco companies created a new scapegoat — the furniture going up in flames — and invested in a national group of fire officials that would deliver the message. Read »

The Chicago Tribune has just published a brilliant collection of articles, documents, charts, and videos that Upstream readers shouldn’t miss.  Here are the opening paragraphs of the first article in the series.

Dr. David Heimbach knows how to tell a story.

Before California lawmakers last year, the noted burn surgeon drew gasps from the crowd as he described a 7-week-old baby girl who was burned in a fire started by a candle while she lay on a pillow that lacked flame retardant chemicals.

“Now this is a tiny little person, no bigger than my Italian greyhound at home,” said Heimbach, gesturing to approximate the baby’s size. “Half of her body was severely burned. She ultimately died after about three weeks of pain and misery in the hospital.”

Heimbach’s passionate testimony about the baby’s death made the long-term health concerns about flame retardants voiced by doctors, environmentalists and even firefighters sound abstract and petty.

But there was a problem with his testimony: It wasn’t true. . . .

More.

The Chicago Tribune has just published a brilliant collection of articles, documents, charts, and videos that Upstream readers shouldn’t miss.  Here is the video introduction to their outstanding series.

The average American baby is born with 10 fingers, 10 toes and the highest recorded levels of flame retardants among infants in the world. The toxic chemicals are present in nearly every home, packed into couches, chairs and many other products. Two powerful industries — Big Tobacco and chemical manufacturers — waged deceptive campaigns that led to the proliferation of these chemicals, which don’t even work as promised.


From

March 22, 2012 was World Water Day. See how North Carolina citizens came together to protect their waters from coal ash.

It’s no secret that coal is our dirtiest energy source. However, what many people don’t know is that as coal burns, many of its most toxic elements, including heavy metals like arsenic, mercury and chromium, are concentrated in the ash that remains and the sludge that’s scrubbed from smokestacks. This by-product is called coal ash. It’s the second largest industrial waste stream in United States and is essentially unregulated.

Rena Steinzor has posted her article “The Truth About Regulation in America (Harvard Law & Policy Review, Vol. 5, pp. 323-346, 2011) on SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

The special interests leading the accelerating crusade against regulation have re-ignited a potent coalition of industry lobbyists, traditional conservatives, and grassroots Tea Party activists. The politicians speak in generic terms for public consumption: “the nation is broke,” “big government is bad,” “regulation costs trillions.” Behind the scenes, industry lobbyists target for repeal dozens of regulations that are designed to control pollution, ensure drug, product, and food safety, and eliminate workplace hazards. In an effort to bring light and air to an often misleading and always opportunistic national debate, this essay presents five truths about the state of health, safety, and environmental regulation in America: First, regulatory dysfunction hurts many people. At the same time, big, bad government and powerful, protective regulation are two different things. The current system is sufficiently weak, especially with respect to enforcement, that even scoundrels are not stopped. Fourth, regulated industries understand the benefits of regulation and could negotiate compromises with agencies and public interest representatives if deregulatory opportunists would back off. Finally, if left alone, health, safety, and environmental agencies could accomplish great things.

Six “protector agencies” with the mission to safeguard people and natural resources from the hazards of the industrial age are the focus of the essay. In the descending order of size include the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

In a nutshell, I argue that stringent regulation has enabled this country to achieve a remarkable level of industrialization while maintaining its natural environment to a remarkable degree, with the admittedly huge exception of the eroding ozone layer that is causing severe climate change. For verification of this observation, we have only to consider China, where a break-neck pace toward industrial development has left the environment in shambles, causing as many as 2.4 million deaths annually as a direct result of contaminated water and air (adjusted for population, the American equivalent would be 558,000 deaths).

The truth about regulation in America is that we cannot prosper without it, as many corporate executives will admit when they are standing outside the herd. The agencies that protect health, safety, and the environment cost less than one percent of the federal budget and projected benefits exceed costs by at least two to one. But the agencies are growing weaker and less able to enforce the law effectively. Further, as happened on Wall Street, even egregious violators continue business as usual until disaster strikes (and, in some painfully notorious cases, even afterwards — see, for example, British Petroleum’s chronic violations of worker safety and environmental laws that were left undeterred over the decade leading up to the Gulf oil spill).

Download the paper for free.

From OregonLive.com

A Lake Oswego public affairs firm has come under scrutiny for its role in a broad-based public relations effort mounted by a company seeking to dispel criticism that its widely used herbicide, atrazine, is a public health threat.

The firm, Quinn Thomas Public Affairs, is headed by Doug Badger and Rick Thomas, who are both well known in Republican political circles in the state.

The public relations effort mounted by Syngenta Crop Protection, the subsidiary of a Swiss-based company, was found in company documents obtained through a lawsuit and reported in a lengthy article by the Center for Media and Democracy’s PR Watch.

It’s a fascinating look at how the burgeoning public affairs industry works in seeking to influence regulators and shape public attitudes.

In this case, the company put out a solicitation for PR help and then hired the White House Writers Group, which was started by by a group of former presidential speechwriters. In its proposal to Syngenta, the White House group said it would work with Quinn Thomas. According to the article:

Quinn Thomas “was specifically touted for its success in ‘engaging’ lawyers who represent American consumers and in fighting public interest groups through ‘aggressive third party activity.’ WHWG said Quinn Thomas’ tactics had successfully slowed or reversed ‘activist momentum.'”

The article goes on to say that Quinn Thomas hired an Arizona researcher to look into a journalist who wrote several stories for the Huffington Post about concerns that atrazine — widely used as a weed killer — was being found in municipal water supplies around the Midwest and was a potential public health threat.

The March, 2010 report delivered to Quinn Thomas said the reporter, Danielle Ivory, had broken several stories about atrazine, “which means her professional reputation and ego are tied to the effectiveness of the attack on the chemical.”

The report also questioned her ties with environmental groups through the Tides Foundation. Tides helped fund the Huffington Post Investigative Fund, which at one point employed Ivory. It also said she had worked for a “who’s who of anti-employer employers,” including longtime public broadcasting journalist Bill Moyers and National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition Sunday.

(It was not just Ivory who was looking into atrazine. The New York Times had written in 2009 about concerns that atrazine was potentially dangerous in lower concentrations than previously thought.)

In addition, the PR Watch story said that Quinn Thomas also received a dossier from the same research company on the Natural Resources Defense Council, which published a critical report on atrazine.

PR Watch said that the writers group and Quinn Thomas also worked on an “array of tactics” to advance the company’s strategy of getting third parties to support of echo the company’s point of view.

One tactic was to have Syngenta’s chief scientist ghostwrite a chapter on atrazine that could then be included in a book challenging regulatory policies adverse to the company.

In 2011, a book, “Scared to Death: How Chemophobia Threatens the Public Health,” was released. It was authored by John Entine, a writer at the American Enterprise Institute who the White House Writers Group had contacted. The book included a chapter defending atrazine.

Rick Thomas, one of the partners at Quinn Thomas, declined to talk about the article, saying that the firm’s “general policy is that we do not comment on work that we may do on behalf of our clients.”

More.

Image from Flickr.

A documentary that examines the April 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico following the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig.

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